Over the years, I’ve learned to pack really light. I’ve been challenging myself to pack fewer and fewer things each trip — maybe you remember last year’s bare minimum packing challenge?
Still, over the last few months in my effort to cut weight, I’ve skimped on things that turned out to be really important like basic first aid supplies and pre-trip planning that could have helped me avoid some annoying, if not, potentially serious health issues.
I figured it was time to outline a basic travel health packing list–the things I should never leave home without–and other things I do to stay safe and healthy when traveling.
Here are some of my best travel health tips:
- Health insurance/Travel insurance: Make sure you understand your existing health insurance policy and see what (if anything!) is covered if you face an emergency or need medical assistance on the road. Your regular health insurance policy may not include coverage if you travel internationally. Some policies will cover emergencies abroad, but you will have to pay up front and submit documents for reimbursement, a complicated process that could take many months and be a serious financial burden. Consider booking travel insurance for extra protection plus added benefits like medical evacuation coverage which is crucial if you need to be flown back to your home country for care. A few months ago, I read this story about a travel blogger’s medical emergency in Peru and how grateful he was to have medical evacuation coverage to get him and his wife home to Canada. I bought travel insurance for the first time ever before our recent trip to India because we wanted to be safe if anything happened so far from home. (Don’t have health insurance right now? Please get it. If you are in the U.S., there are affordable options available here and government subsidies available if you need additional help).
- Immunizations: Contact your doctor and see if your health plan has a travel immunization clinic where you can get a consultation and get recommended vaccines for your planned itinerary. If not, you can find low-price travel vaccines through your county/municipal health department or at some pharmacies (e.g., here in the U.S., CVS, Walgreens, and Pharmaca stores all do travel vaccinations)
- Allergies & chronic health concerns: If you have any allergies or health conditions that would be important for foreign doctors to know, be sure to carry documentation of your conditions. Consider having a native speaker translate your condition into the local written language and give you the proper pronunciation so you can communicate it verbally (important for food allergies that you need to share in restaurants).
Create a travel health packing list:
Prepare a list of the things you want to have on hand for common medical issues and basic health and safety. The list will vary, based on your personal and family needs.
Here’s what’s in my travel health packing list:
- Motion Sickness medication: This is the most complicated, but important part of my personal travel packing list. I get nauseous anytime I even think about riding in the back seat of a car or boarding a boat. Dramamine works, but it puts me to sleep immediately. Transderm Scop (scopalomine) patch is very effective and works for three full days. Unfortunately, it’s available in the US by prescription only, and, as a brand name drug, it’s a bit expensive for everyday use. I keep a few on hand and save them for days I’m at most risk, planning to be on a boat, etc. Over the last few months, I’ve been experimenting with the Sea-Band motion sickness wrist bands. They, supposedly, apply pressure to an accupressure point that prevents nausea. I’ve used them with mixed success–on some recent car rides (like this five-day campervan road trip where I rode in the back seat the entire time), I wore them the whole time and felt fine. But just this past this weekend on the short 1 and a half hour drive along the winding Northern Sonoma County Coast up to our campsite, I got seriously ill while wearing them alone. So I’m torn as to their effectiveness.
- Pepto Bismol: Good for soothing an upset stomach and nausea. I carry a handful of the chewable tablets with me and they help when all else fails.
- Probiotics: I just started taking probiotic supplements daily when I travel, and I think it helps regulate my digestion and prevent bloating and the illness I often feel when adjusting to a new environment. I took throughout my last trip to Mexico and never got sick, though I wasn’t terribly careful about what I was eating and drinking.
- Antibiotic cream: Antibiotic cream or ointment (like Neosporin) is important for treating minor cuts and scrapes. I forgot to pack it on my last trip to Mexico, and a small cut on my foot that I just cleaned with soap and water become infected. I learned my lesson there!
- Ibuprofen: I always pack a small container of pills for various aches and pains.
- Benadryl: Good if you have seasonal allergies exacerbated by travel or have a bite or bee sting (I was grateful to have some on hand that time I was stung by a scorpion while hiking in the woods). I also take two pills on long flights and it helps me fall asleep.
- Band Aids: I’m very clumsy and prone to blisters and cuts so I go through a ton of bandages when I travel. While I usually use generics, the Band Aid brand Extra Wide Sport Strips are my favorite for travel. The large size is versatile and the thick foam is good at cushioning the blister or cut.
- Bug Repellant: While I usually try to use natural products, I don’t mess around with mosquitos so if I’m going somewhere where they are common, I pack a small bottle of 100% Deet (we have this travel-friendly small spray bottle). You just need a few drops of it to be effective.
- Sunscreen: There’s nothing that will kill your trip like a bad sunburn. Also, lots of harmful exposure comes from time spent outside while traveling. Unfortunately, many common sunscreens on the market are not very effective and possibly harmful. Kevin’s dad and one of my best friends have both been diagnosed with melanoma, so I’m very careful about the sunscreen I buy. I prefer sunscreens that have high SPF physical (mineral) blockers like Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide, rather than the easier to rub in, but possibly less effective chemical blockers. The Environmental Working Group publishes an annual list of their picks for safe and effective sunscreens. Some brands I like are Blue Lizard (for body) and EltaMD (for face–doesn’t make me break out).
- Sunglasses / sun hat / sun shirt: While sunscreen is important for protecting the skin you can’t hide, covering up is still the most effective way of protecting yourself from the sun. I always bring sunglasses, a sunhat, and a long-sleeve rash guard for swimming.
- Lip Balm with sunscreen
- Water sanitation pills: At a conference last year, I was given a sample of these Aquatabs water purification tablets for treating water when traveling in developing countries. I got the chance ot test them out when we were in India earlier this year. Even though I used the bare minimum (half a tablet in 750ML of tap water) the tablet left a strong taste and smell of chlorine in the water. I wound up buying bottled water to drink and used the Aquatabs water for brushing our teeth and washing fruit from the market.
- Feminine hygiene: Tampons are hard to find in many places around the world, so if that’s what you use, bring plenty with you. Or try the Divacup menstrual cup, a reusable solution that cuts down on packing space and waste.
- Contact lens solution: Contact solution is hard to find and expensive in some countries. I always bring a full travel-sized bottle with me.
- Vitamin powder: I try to bring a few pouches of Emergen C vitamin powder. It comes in handy if you get sick and need added electrolytes, or feel you need an extra boost of vitamins to enhance your immunity.
- Daily meds + copy of your RX: Pack any daily meds you take (plus a few days extra, in case your trip gets delayed). Also bring a copy of your RX or have a scanned copy somewhere you can access in case
What did I forget? What are your best travel health tips + what’s on your travel health packing list?
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